Main Attractions in Beijing
Album 2: The Forbidden
With adjacent Tian'anmen Square, this has been Beijing's centerpiece
attraction since more than 200,000 laborers built it for the third Ming
Dynasty emperor Yongle in the early 1400s. 24 emperors and empresses
of the Ming ans Qing (Manzu) dynasties made this their home and held
court here across a span of 5 centures.
74-hectare (183 acre) complex is best known as the Forbidden City, denoting
the fact that only the royal family, ministers and tribute-bearing ambassador
were allowed inside. This ancient royal city, stuck in the heart of
the modern city of Beijing like a life-sized time capsule, is nearly
a half-mile wide (east to west) and more than a half-mile long (north
to south). Its palaces, pavilions, and halls are divided into 9,000
rooms, and the whole complex is enclosed in thick walls over 30 feet
tall and by a moat 170 feet across. Now the old world of beautiful concubines
and priapic emperors, ball-breaking (and -broken) eunuchs and conspicuous
wealth still hovers around the lush gardens, courtyards, pavilions and
great halls of the palace.
first of its three areas has four monumental gates and a moat spanned
by five marble bridges. The magnificent Gate of Supreme Harmony, with
its bronze guard-lions, leads to flagstone-paved courtyard accommodating
9,000 people on imperial ceremony occasions. The Hall of Supreme Harmony
and the bronze incense burners and jade chimes for those events like
are the royal living quarters, whose small, intimate courtyards and
palaces are now museums housing the dynastic clock, artwork, calligraphy
and other collections. At the back are the ancient cypress and pine
trees, and the well in which the Empress Dowager Cixi Drowned a concubine
who was threatening her hold on power.
the center of Beijing and the heart of the Chinese nation, Tian'anmen
Square covers 44 hectares (102 acres) and is regarded as the world's
largest public area, capable of holding 500,000 people. In fact, it
is estimated that upward of one millin people gathered here to witness
the October 1, 1949 proclamation by the late Chairman Mao Zedong of
the founding of the People's Republic of China.
of China's most photographed edifices, the reviewing stand atop the
33.7-meter high Gate of Heavenly Peace, from which where Chairman Mao
and other dignitaries made speeches and reviewed events, is now open
to public. The famous portrait of Chairman Mao still adorns the arched
It stands on the central north-south axis of the old imperial city.
In fact, there was no square here during the time of the emperors, only
a wide boulevard, the Imperial Way, lined with state offices. The Imperial
Way ran from the Gate of Heavenly Peace south to Qianmen (Front Gate),
which still stands guard at the southern end of Tiananmen Square. Qianmen
was one of the nine great gates of Beijing's city walls, which were
removed in 1958. The Imperial Way was the southern axis of the city,
stretching from the Forbidden City all the way to the Temple of Heaven.
Qianmen, which dates back nearly 500 years, remains a city landmark.
Its northern passage is known as the Main Gate and its southern passage
is the Arrow Tower. Just beyond the square stands the world's largest
Three monuments are located within the square, the Monument to the People's
Heroes, an obelisk surrounded by figures, the Memorial Hall of Chairman
Mao Zedong, in which the leader rests in his glass sarcophagus.
Tiananmen Square contains fresh monuments to the new city. On the square
itself are the Monument to the People's Heroes and the Mao Zedong Mausoleum.
To the west is the Great Hall of the People and on the east flank are
the Museum of Chinese History and the Museum of the Chinese Revolution.
Each site is open to the public. The square itself is open daily from
dawn to dusk. At twilight each day, there is a ceremonial lowering of
the Chinese flag by a detachment of the People's Liberation Army, a
popular photo opportunity among visitors. Those contraptions that look
like video cameras on the speaker poles encompassing the square are
just what you suppose--surveillance devices to record what happens in
China's most sensitive and venerated public forum.
the square is a place for people to wander and fly kites or buy balloons
for the kids. Surrounding the square is a mish-mash of monuments past
and present: Tiananmen (Gate of Heavenly Peace); the Chinese Revolution
History Museum; the Great Hall of the People; Qianmen (Front Gate);
the Mao Mausoleum, where you can purchase Mao memorabilia and catch
a glimpse of the man himself (when his mortuary make-up isn't being
refreshed); and the Monument to the People's Heroes.
was designed eight centuries ago as a hot-season getaway for the royal
and twice suffered extensively at the hands of Western troops but it
retains its considerable beauty today.
20km northwest of Beijing, in the cool hills that rise from the plain
on which the city humidly sits in the summer, Yiheyuan also witnessed
extravagant celebrations that kept the pampered elite from boredom.
It was further beautified by the Dwoager Empress Cixi, who almost broke
the national treasury creating her personal Xanadu.
with the repair of the damage inflicted in 1860 by the Anglo-Frech troops
during the Second Opium War and in 1900 by rioters in the aftermath
of the Boxer Rebellion, it retains the residence of the Empress Dwoager,
Complete with its Furnishings and her personal effects.
place is packed to the gunwales in summer with Beijing residents taking
full advantage of Kunming Lake which takes up three-quarters of the
park. The main building is the lyrically named Hall of Benevolence &
Longevity, while along the north shore is the Long Corridor, so named
because it's, well, long. There's over 700m (2300ft) of corridor, filled
with mythical paintings and scenes. If some of the paintings have a
newish patina, that's because many of the murals were painted over during
the Cultural Revolution.
Corridor (Chang Lang)--This covered wooden promenade runs about half
a mile (2,550 feet) along the northern shore of Kunming Lake, from the
Eastern Halls to the Marble Boat. Its crossbeams, ceiling roof panels,
and pillars are painted with more than 10,000 scenes from Chinese geography,
history, literature, and myth, making this a promenade into a picture
encyclopedia of China. The paintings are crude but bright, and the Long
Corridor is exceptionally charming. Built in 1750 (and rebuilt and restored
many times since), the Long Corridor consists of 273 crossbeam sections
and four pavilions that lead to cafes, boat docks, or sites on Longevity
of Benevolent Longevity (Renshou Dian)--Located directly across the
courtyard from the East Gate entrance, this hall is where the Empress
Dowager Cixi and her nephew (who was appointed emperor, but placed under
her protection) received members of the court. Cixi occupied the dragon
of Jade Ripples (Yulan Tang)--This is the lakeside residence of the
Empress Dowager's nephew, Emperor Guangxu, where he was kept from the
throne, a prisoner of his aunt.
of Happiness and Longevity (Leshou Tang)--This complex on the northeast
tip of the lake was the Empress Dowager's private residence. Most of
the furniture, the bed curtains, and the glass lamps (China's first
electric lamps) are original. The Long Corridor begins here.
Park is an icon of such enduring value that it shorthands the entire
city. The park's classic Ming architecture gives it heaps of symbolic
value and the name has been used to brand products from tiger balm to
plumbing fixtures, as well as decorating a plethora of tourist literature.
It's set in a 267-hectare (660-acre) park, with four gates at the cardinal
points, and walls to the north and east. It originally functioned as
a vast stage for solemn rites and rituals.
beautifuly proportioned and positioned that it has become Beijing's
"official civic symbol", Temple of Heaven was built between
1406 and 1420, the same time that Ming Emperor Yongle laid out and built
the Forbidden City. He oversaw the construction of an enormous park
and altar to heaven directly south of the palace. Each year on the winter
solstice the emperor would lead a procession out of the Forbidden City
across what is today Tiananmen Square southward down the Imperial Way
to Tiantan, the Temple of Heaven, where he would perform rites and make
sacrifices to the cosmos on behalf of China. Much of the architecture
of these ancient rites survives in Tiantan Park (Tiantan Gongyuan),
but what makes this park so singular among attractions in China is a
single remarkable building, a magnificent tower known as the Hall of
Prayer for Good Harvests (Qinian Dian).
centerpiece Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests that dominates the complex
is the city symbol and is a faithful reconstruction of the original,
which burned in 1889. Inside, 28 wooden pillars support the 39-meter
tower, whose three conical roofs are covered in blue glazed tiles reflecting
the sky. The wooden walls are richly decorated inside and outside.
on the 273-hectare (674 acre) site are such wonderfully-named features
as the Bridge of Vermilion Stairs, the Imperial Vault of Heaven and
the Echo or Whispering Wall, whose remarkable acoustical design carries
even whispered sounds over a distance. Nearby are the three terraces
of the Circular Mound, where emperors offered up their prayers.
in the morning to enjoy the sunrise, breathe in the fragrance of the
ancient cypress trees and perhaps join in the tai chi exercises and
other activities of the assembled people.
Album 3: The Great Wall
the common assumption, the Great Wall can not be seen from the moon;
it can, however, be viewed from astronauts in passing orbiters. It was
also not built all at one, ti was built from the 5th to 16th centuries
to be completed as a barrier against nomadic invaders from the north.
The wall's origins date back at least to the 5th century b.c., when
the rival kingdoms of the Warring States Period (453-221 b.c.) built
defensive ramparts against their enemies. The First Emperor of unified
China, Qin Shi Huang Di, fortified the barriers in the 3rd century b.c.
Over a 10-year period, 300,000 conscripted laborers, many of them slaves,
knit the walls into a continuous rampart to protect the western frontier.
New sections extended the wall east to the Yellow Sea.
The Great Wall was constantly repositioned along new routes as successive
dynasties rose and fell. In the year a.d. 607, more than a million workers
toiled on this line of defense, but soon after the Great Wall was abandoned.
The Mongols eventually broke through from the north and established
the Yuan Dynasty (a.d. 1271-1368), making Beijing their capital. Their
successors, the emperors of the Ming Dynasty (a.d. 1368-1644), set in
motion the last great phase of wall building, which created the Great
Wall as we see it today north of Beijing.
Its eastern foot rests in the Gulf of Bohai on the edge of the Yellow
(or Eastern) Sea, its western 5,000km (3,333 miles) on the verges of
the desert region.
to Beijing can visit the Wall at three locations: Bakaling, 80km north;
and Simatai, 110km northeast. Built during the Ming Dynasty, the Badaling
section is 7.8 meters high and 5.8 meters wide. While the ridge can
be accessed on foot, the steep ascent is not for everyone and a cable
car ride can be substituted.
restored sector, at Mutianyu, can also be explored by foot up its long,
steep stairs and restful terraces or by a recently installed cable car.
Both sides are often crowded, which has been left in its ruined state.
However, while visitors to the two restored areas can go by tour bus,
those traveling to Simatai must have their own guide and means of transprotation.
only to the Great Wall as a destination, and usually included with the
Wall in a one-day package tour, the 13 tombs of the Ming Dynasty emperors
are living monuments, with all except the one opened the public still
containing the remians of their emperor.
the 16 emperors who ruled China during the Ming Dynasty (a.d. 1368-1644),
13 are buried in elaborate complexes in the valley of the Ming Tombs
north of Beijing. Tomb construction began here in 1409 and continued
for 2 centuries. A red gate at the only entrance sealed off the valley,
and guards were posted to keep out the people. No one, not even the
emperor, could ride a horse on these grounds. The same emperor, Yongle,
who oversaw the construction of the Forbidden City, chose the site of
this huge cemetery. The tombs reflect a similar conception of imperial
architecture, consisting of walls, gates, courtyards, stairways, and
elaborate pavilions with yellow tile roofs (yellow being the color of
emperors). The actual burial chamber (a tumulus) is underground. The
emperor, his wife, and his favored concubines were the only people buried
there, along with enough royal treasure to stuff a small museum. Yongle's
two Ming Dynasty successors are entombed in Nanjing, and the seventh
Ming emperor chose to be buried nearer Beijing (on Jinshan Hill). Otherwise,
this is Ming China's ultimate old boy's club (afterlife branch).
a natural site that resembles the courtyard so loved by emperors and
common folk alike, the tombs look down from their hillside locations
onto the floor of the valley, across which snakes the ceremonial road
that is guarded by a series of large stone animals.
Spirit Way (Shen Dao), the formal entrance to the Ming Tombs that funeral
processions from the Forbidden City would have trod over, extends almost
4 miles from the entrance gate to the first restored tomb. The five-arched
marble entrance gate, 95 feet wide, was carved in 1540. A second passageway,
the Great Red Gate (Da Hong Men), served as the old entrance to the
valley, its middle door opened only to admit an emperor about to be
entombed. The next relic is a carved stone tablet (stele) dating from
1426, with an inscription added by Qing Emperor Qianlong 3 centuries
later. It is followed by the most famous site at the Ming Tombs, the
Avenue of the Stone Animals. Most royal tombs have such an avenue of
sculptures, but none as impressive as the Ming Tombs. There are 12 pairs
of animals, including elephants, lions, and mythological beasts, and
six pairs of court and military officials. It is worth walking this
portion of the entrance, as the old sculptures, some dating from a.d.
1435, are a delight.
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To enter a Ming Dynasty underground burial vault, visitors must line
up at Ding Ling, the tomb of the 13th Ming Emperor, Wanli, his wife
Empress Xiaoduan, and his number-one concubine Xiaojing. Wanli ruled
from 1573 to 1620. He had been overseeing the construction of his Underground
Palace from the age of 22. When it was completed, he threw a party in
the funeral vault, where he was buried 30 years later. Ding Ling was
the first imperial tomb ever officially excavated in China, opening
in 1958. The 13,000-square-foot Underground Palace, a marble vault divided
into five chambers, lies 88 feet below ground. The stairway down is
cold and claustrophobic. Each carved archway once contained an ingenuous
system of "self-acting stones" that fell into place as locks
the first time the door was closed, sealing in the dead.
Ding Ling still contains the white marble throne of the emperor and
the large porcelain jars outfitted with sesame oil and wicks to burn
eternally underground. In the Burial Chamber are three red coffins-the
emperor's in the middle, flanked by those of his wife and concubine.
There are also 23 wooden chests filled with jewelry, costumes, cups,
silk, jade belts, and gold chopsticks-about 3,000 precious objects,
many now on display at the Chang Ling tomb. It was in this emperor's
casket that researchers made a rare discovery, a winged crown of gold
mesh with coiling dragons and a pearl, the only imperial crown ever
excavated in China.